(Year Program ‘10, Shana Bet Fellow ’11, Hourly ‘16-’19)
Summer’s end in Jerusalem is full of signs that fall and Rosh Hashanah are approaching.
If one looks up at the sky at just the right, lucky moment, thousands of storks are flying overhead on their journey from Europe to Africa. Chatzav, the tall spikes of white flowers called sea squill in English, appear in fields and along roadsides.
But my favorite sign of fall and Rosh Hashanah isn’t found in nature but on fences. Every school in Jerusalem sports a sign welcoming students back to a new year of learning. Even DJs on the radio offer a warm “Shalom Kita Alef, welcome first graders!”
Seeing these signs and hearing the greetings always makes me smile – I make sure to listen to the radio on the first day of school just to hear the DJs welcome new first graders. Sometimes I wonder what choices I would make if I could do my own school years all over again, knowing what I know now.
That’s a fun daydream for 5 or so minutes, but I don’t have a time machine. The real opportunity to take “knowing what I know now,” and making new and better choices actually happens just after the new school begins.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the ultimate do over, a chance to reflect on what we didn’t do as well as we could in the previous year and to make this new year a much better year for ourselves and the people around us. We make amends to those we have offended and to G-d, we pray, we give charity. If we are sincere, we are promised a new start, another chance to become the people we tried and sometimes failed to be in the previous year. It’s a little like getting the best of being both a returning student and a brand new Klita Alef student. Like the first graders, we are starting our year with a clean slate. But like the returning students, we are coming back with the wisdom of what we didn’t do so well in the previous year and where we need to improve.
Wherever and however you choose to spend the High Holy Days this year, I hope that you are greeted as warmly as Israel’s first graders! Shanah Tovah!